Top 10 Movie Soundtracks

I have a fond appreciation for music, so I naturally go bananas when I watch a movie that has a killer soundtrack/playlist. There are some exceptional movies that contain music that is just as great as the film itself, and the not so good movies that have phenomenal songs, so by default they become guilty pleasure films. Here’s a list of my top ten favorite movie soundtracks (and ditties featured on the film that didn’t make it to the soundtrack).

  1. Dazed and Confused (1993)

I learned in my freshman year of college that I can’t truly be friends with someone who doesn’t appreciate the genius of Dazed and Confused. Is this theory trite and immature? Debatable. But my love for the movie is that deep. It’s set in Texas on the last day of school—May 28, 1976 and director Richard Linklater decided all songs used in the movie had to be released before this day. Authenticity at its finest, my friends. If you haven’t watched it, you need to, because it has an all star cast: Matthew McConaughey (this is the movie where he said his iconic line, “Alright, alright, alright,” which he later recycled for his Oscar acceptance speech), Ben Affleck, Jason London, Parker Posey, Mila Jovovich (who barely has any lines but is ironically on the cover of the movie), and many other great actors. Like its cast, the movie is also stacked with an awesome set of rock songs from the 1970s. In high school, I couldn’t help but play “Sweet Emotion” by Aerosmith as I drove into the school parking lot every morning. Pure perfection. Here are some of my favorite songs from the movie:

  • “Sweet Emotion” – Aerosmith
  • “Slow Ride” – Foghat
  • “School’s Out” – Alice Cooper
  • “Free Ride” – Edgar Winter
  • “No More Mr. Nice Guy” – Alice Cooper
  • “Hurricane” – Bob Dylan
  • “Love Hurts” – Nazareth
  • “Rock and Roll All Night” – Kiss
  • “Summer Breeze” – Seals and Croft

2. The Big Chill (1983)

Okay, I’m not gonna lie—this movie gets kind of weird at points. Despite this, ask any baby boomer what movie has the best music and I’ll bet your bottom dollar that their answer will be The Big Chill . Similar to D&C, this flick also has an all star cast: Glenn Close, Kevin Kline, William Hurt, Jeff Goldblum, not to mention Kevin Costner’s fantastic performance as Alex (lol). The movie is about a group of old college friends who come together for a weekend after they attend the funeral of one of their beloved pals. The music is an eclectic compilation of 60s motown and rock. I guarantee if and when you watch The Big Chill, you, too, will want to dance around your kitchen to “Ain’t too Proud to Beg” while wrapping up leftovers. It’s just that good. Here are some of my favorite songs from the movie:

  • “Heard it through the Grapevine” – Marvin Gaye
  • “Good Lovin’” – The Rascals
  • “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” – The Rolling Stones
  • “Joy to the World” – Three Dog Night
  • “I Second that Emotion” – Smokey Robinson
  • “It’s the Same Old Song” – The Four Tops
  • “The Weight” – The Band
  • “Bad Moon Rising” – Creedence Clearwater Revival
  • “Dancing in the Streets” – Martha Reeves and the Vandellas
  • “(You Make Me Feel Like a) Natural Woman – Aretha Franklin

3.  Almost Famous (2000) 

Great movie, great acting, great dialogue, and great, great music. Almost Famous is one of those movies that when I first watched it, I wanted to learn everything about the making of the film, the music, and the real-life people depicted in it. It is without a doubt Cameron Crowe’s best film to date, in my opinion. The movie is roughly based on Crowe’s life as a young rock reporter for Rolling Stone magazine and the fictional band featured in the film, Stillwater, is an amalgam of groups Crowe interviewed, including Led Zeppelin and The Allman Brothers Band. In true Cameron Crowe fashion, the movie is heavily influenced by music, but has a clear plot line of its own. Again, it’s another movie that has an all star cast, including Patrick Fugit, Kate Hudson, Billy Crudup, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Jason Lee, Anna Paquin, Zooey Deschanel, Frances McDormand, Fairuza Balk, Jimmy Fallon, Rainn Wilson, and Eric Stonestreet. I love watching Almost Famous with friends who’ve never seen it before, because they’re usually in awe of how many famous people are in the movie (and actually serve a purpose, as opposed to movies like Valentine’s Day and *cringe* New Year’s Eve). The music sets the scenes and is a mix of Laurel Canyon folk music and rock hits from the early 70s. One of the greatest scenes of the film is when the band is on tour and sings “Tiny Dancer” by Elton John. The songs in Almost Famous encapsulate every aspect a scene can emote from its audience. Fun fact: Crowe’s then wife, Nancy Wilson (who is one of the key members of Heart) and Peter Frampton were heavily involved in the musical direction of the film. Here are my favorite songs from the movie:

  • “America” – Simon and Garfunkel
  • “I’ve Seen All the Good People” – Yes
  • “Simple Man” – Lynyrd Skynyrd
  • “Tiny Dancer” – Elton John
  • “The Wind” – Cat Stevens
  • “Something in the Air” – Thunderclap Newman
  • “The Oogum Boogum Song” – Brenton Wood
  • “Paranoid” – Black Sabbath
  • “River” – Joni Mitchell
  • “Mona Lisa and Mad Hatters” – Elton John
  • “My Cherie Amour” – Stevie Wonder
  • “Teacher” – Jethro Tull
  • “Reelin’ in the Years” – Steely Dan

4. Forrest Gump (1994)

I’m not sure if there are too many people in the United States who haven’t seen Forrest Gump, so it should come as no surprise that this movie and the music in it made the list. I could go on and on about the score itself (Alan Silvestri, I am not worthy), but instead I’ll simply discuss the music set. Since the bulk of the film takes place in the 50s, 60s, and 70s, most of the music is indicative of the time. From Elvis Presley to Creedence Clearwater Revival, Forrest Gump gives the audience brief lessons in both American history and music appreciation. While some of the song choices are overused in media and sound like they would be featured in some sappy period sports docudrama, most of the music is quite good. The songs featured in Forrest Gump are some of the most popular hits made by music legends, compiled into a single movie. It’s basically like a Now That’s What I Call Music! CD, but #tbt edition. Here are my favorite songs from the movie:

  • “Blowin’ in the Wind” – Joan Baez
  • “Fortunate Son” – Creedence Clearwater Revival
  • “Respect” – Aretha Franklin
  • “California Dreamin’” – The Mamas and the Papas
  • “For What it’s Worth” – Buffalo Springfield
  • “Mrs. Robinson” – Simon and Garfunkel
  • “Volunteers” – Jefferson Airplane
  • “San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair) – Scott McKenzie
  • “Turn! Turn! Turn!” – The Byrds
  • “Sweet Home Alabama” – Lynyrd Skynyrd
  • “Free Bird” – Lynyrd Skynyrd
  • “Running on Empty” – Jackson Browne
  • “Against the Wind” – Bob Seger
  • “Go Your Own Way” – Fleetwood Mac

5. Elizabethtown (2005) 

There are good movies, there are bad movies, and then there are bad movies with fabulous music. While film makers strive to make movies that fit into category A, Elizabethtown is unfortunately the latter of the aforementioned types. Another Cameron Crowe flick, the movie stars Orlando Bloom as Ben, a failed businessman who is in the midst of a quarter-life crisis when fate adds salt to his open wounds and he learns that his father died unexpectedly in his hometown of Elizabethtown, Kentucky. Along the way, he meets Claire (Kirsten Dunst)—literally, they met on a plane—who, over the course of the movie teaches him to accept failure and his flaws. The movie was massacred by critics and inspired Nathan Rabin to coin the phrase, manic pixie dream girl, to describe Dunst’s character. Despite the fact that movie itself isn’t so hot, the songs in this movie are killer. I swear, in a perfect world, I would have Cameron Crowe make me mixed CDs for every road trip I take. I’d drive FOREVER. Here are my favorite songs from the movie:

  • “It’ll All Workout” – Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers
  • “Shut Us Down” Lindsey Buckingham
  • “Big Love” – Fleetwood Mac
  • “Come Pick Me Up” – Ryan Adams and Kim Richey
  • “60B” – Nancy Wilson
  • “Learning to Fly” – Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers
  • “That’s Life” – James Browne
  • “Pride” – U2

6. School of Rock (2003) 

Growing up, I watched a lot of movies (not much has changed), but there are only a few that I still find as funny now as I did when I was a kid—School of Rock is one. Jack Black plays Dewey Finn, an amateur rock guitarist who dreams to make it big, despite being kicked out of his band and broke. In order to earn money to pay his rent, he pretends to be his roommate Ned and substitute teaches at a prestigious prep school, where he soon learns that his students are musically talented. He and the students form a band and he teaches the class the importance of rock music. This is a great movie not only because of the music and humor, but it also places an importance on encouraging kids to get involved in the arts. The movie features heavier rock songs from the mid to late 70s and 80s. Another Richard Linklater classic, the film was written by Mike White (plays Ned Schneebly) and also stars Sarah Silverman as, ironically enough, Ned’s uptight girlfriend who works as an assistant to the mayor. Here are my favorite songs from the movie:

  • “Immigrant Song” – Led Zeppelin
  • “My Brain is Hanging Upside Down” – The Ramones
  • “Smoke on the Water” – Deep Purple
  • “Substitute” – The Who
  • “Roadrunner” – Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers
  • “Edge of Seventeen” – Stevie Nicks

7. Goodfellas (1990)

Martin Scorsese has made several mafioso movies throughout the years, but Goodfellas has the best musical soundtrack of the three. The movie takes place over the course of several decades, spanning from the 1950s to the early 1980s. It tells the story of Henry Hill (Ray Liotta), who dreams of becoming a mobster as a child, and the rise and fall of his success as a gangster. There are no subtleties in the film as far as violence and action go and although the film can be dark at times, the music helps move the story and draws the audience to keep watching. The songs usually contrast with what is happening in the scene, which represses the film’s content from becoming unpalatable. For instance, the first scene of the film is extremely violent, where Tommy (Joe Pesci) and Billy (Robert De Niro) brutally kill Billy Batts, a mobster from another crime family, who they had stuffed in the trunk of Henry’s car. As Henry closes the trunk, the screen turns into a still frame and Henry’s narration says, “As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be a gangster” and then“Rags to Riches” begins to play as the opening credits role. It’s fast, unforgiving, and will make you keep watching until the final scene. Here are my favorite songs from the movie:

  • “Rags to Riches” – Tony Bennett
  • “Then He Kissed Me” – The Crystals
  • “Look in My Eyes” – The Chantels
  • “Life is But a Dream” – The Harptones
  • “Baby, I Love You” – Aretha Franklin
  • “Beyond the Sea” – Bobby Darin
  • “Sunshine of Your Love” – Cream
  • “Layla” – Derek and the Dominoes
  • “Gimme Shelter” – The Rolling Stones
  • “Wives and Lovers” – Jack Jones
  • “My Way” – Sid Vicious

8. Pulp Fiction (1994) 

Quality, not quantity, that’s the motto I’m using to classify the music in Pulp Fiction. Unlike Forrest Gump, which came out the same year and has a beautiful score that is played several times throughout the film, Pulp Fiction has no score and contains very few songs. Everything about this movie is finely tuned and meticulously styled to tell the gritty, intersecting stories of a group of people living in Los Angeles. From the conversational dialogue to the song choices featured in the film, all details play a purpose to drive the plot. Again, this film has an all star cast, which includes Uma Thurman, John Travolta, Samuel L. Jackson, Bruce Willis, Harvey Keitel, Tim Roth, Kathy Griffin, Christopher Walken, Steve Buscemi, Amanda Plummer (yes, Honey Bunny is Captain Von Trapp’s daughter), Rosanna Arquette, Eric Stoltz, Frank Whaley, and the mastermind of the film Quentin Tarantino. The film is truly a piece of art in and of itself and I love the music they used and the impression it left on other artists. Pulp Fiction was a source of inspiration for Lady Gaga’s music video for “Telephone.” The diner scenes are inspired by the coffee shop story in Pulp Fiction and Beyonce’s character in the video is based on Amanda Plummer’s character in the film. Here are my favorite songs from the movie:

  • “Jungle Boogie” – Kool and the Gang
  • “Let’s Stay Together” – Al Green
  • “Son of a Preacher Man” – Dusty Springfield
  • “You Can Never Tell” – Chuck Berry

9. American Hustle (2013) 

David O’ Russell is a director whose films consistently feature exceptional songs and his 2013 film, American Hustle, is no exception. The film is about a sting operation headed by two con artists, Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale) and Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams), as well as FBI Agent Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper). The film has great cinematic quality and shows the tacky, disco-glam scene that was prevalent in 1970s/80s New York. The characters are constantly contradictory: moral and scheming; elegant and tacky; authentic and phony; emotional and cunning.  Similarly enough, the music is just as oscillating as the characters’ personalities. Jennifer Lawrence’s sing-along performance to “Live and Let Die” is one of my favorite parts of the film. Here are some of my favorite songs from the movie:

  • “Blue Moon” – Oscar Peterson
  • “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” – Elton John
  • “Does Anybody Really Know What Time it is” – Chicago
  • “Live and Let Die” – Wings
  • “I Saw the Light” – Todd Rundgren
  • “Clair de Lune” – Claude Debussy
  • “How Can You Mend a Broken Heart” – Bee Gees
  • “Long Black Road” – Electric Light Orchestra
  • “Dirty Work” – Steely Dan
  • “A Horse with No Name” – The Band

10. 500 Days of Summer (2009)

The year 2009 was a pivotal time for Zooey Deschanel and Joseph Gordon Levitt. They had both been working actors for more than 10 years (who could forget J.G.L.’s performance in Angels in the Outfield?), but it wasn’t until they starred in 500 Days of Summer, the indie film directed by Marc Webb, that gave them both a significant amount of star power. The film was one of the first of its kind to allude to hipsterdom in popular culture. Following suit, the film features many songs of the 60s folk, 80s rock, and indie persuasion. My favorite scene is karaoke night when J.G.L.’s character Tom Hansen sings “Here Comes Your Man” by The Pixies. The film is a modern classic, in my opinion, so it would come as no surprise to me if 500 Days of Summer becomes what When Harry Met Sally… was for our parents. Here are my favorite songs from the movie:

  • “Us” – Regina Spektor
  • “There is a Light that Never Goes Out” – The Smiths
  • “Bad Kids” – Black Lips
  • “She’s Like the Wind” – Patrick Swayze
  • “Please, Please, Please, Let Me Get What I Want” – The Smiths
  • “You Make My Dreams” – Daryl Hall and John Oates
  • “Sweet Disposition” – Temper Trap
  • “Bookends” – Simon and Garfunkel
  • “Vagabond” – Wolfmother
  • “She’s Got You High” – Mumm-Ra